Our house mother had no choice but to send our Little White to a school specializing with kids of special needs, about 20 odd kilometres away from home. But it was worth the daily commute back and forth to drop her off and pick her up everyday, as there were specialized teachers there who could tap into her inner potential. And with daily session, she slowly started to open up.
'Mother loves me'
The results were cause for tears of happiness. She could finally recognize enough characters to write out a simple sentence. All our hopes for her continued to grow with these three words.
Mother loves me. A sentence that is probably said millions and millions of times across the world every day, and I lost myself in a daydream where just like the little fairy Tinkerbell, whenever these words were muttered, a magical golden dust cloud would burst out and fly across the land, covering and protecting everything it landed on.
But what of Little White's mother? Did she love her, cover and protect her?
a corner of one of the girls' beds. They still have such a sweet innocence
Handprints of all the girls, to spell out 'Nhip Cau Hanh Phuc'
Her mother, according to our team who brought Little White home, is a smart and beautiful young woman. Her father, on the other hand, is a bit slow and not as asthetically pleasing. It's quite a mystery to anyone that knows this couple as to how they hit it off and had not only Little White, but her younger sister. The union didn't last long and they divorced.
Both of the girls lived with their grandparents, currently in their 70s or 80s. When they were younger, they didn't have any stable jobs. The grandfather would pick coconuts for delivery, while the grandmother would just work whatever job was offered to her at any given time. The existence of our two little girls were no different to that of wild animals...freedom to run around at all hours of the day, searching for food when they were hungry, defecating and urinating wherever and whenever they needed to. Other matters of hygiene such as brushing their teeth, general bathing or washing their hair...one can only guess how many times they had done that in their entire lives.
"When we first brought her home, we were scared. She was severely malnourished, and didn't have the strength to walk without someone supporting her. The smell that emanated from her fragile body was overpowering, her head filled with lice, and both rows of teeth completely riddled with cavities" - Member of OBV psychology team, who helped bring Little White home.
Yet even her tiny emaciated frame was not enough of a deterrent for the abuse that was afflicted upon her, enough to leave her with a broken pelvis.
The monster was once a 'respectable man' within the tiny community in a village tucked away deep in the Western provinces.
A chart that shows how the girls grow (height, weight) from when they first enter the home. There is also a chart that follows their achievements and any punishment or penalization for stepping out of line. All good deeds are rewarded with a gold star. Bad deeds (such as wetting the bed) gets a black star.
On a day where their mother was away, this man came looking for her. It was around lunchtime, the sun beating down upon the small house. The grandmother was out working, the grandfather lying indoors trying to keep cool. Little was out the back playing in the sunshine. He struck.
Crying did not help her. It only enraged him further as he pressed his hands to her mouth to stifle her screams, and repeatedly slapping her face. When the grandfather was awoken by her screams, he ran out the back to find her crawling from the shrubbery, her legs covered in blood, her nose and lips bruised a deep purple. They immediately went to the emergency room.
The best is in jail. At least, that's how the journalists report the story to be.
It's fun at home.
She was welcomed into our home with open arms. She was sent to school, and was well fed, as I've already described. If you looked at two pictures comparing Little White from when she first came to us, vs a picture a year later....you wouldn't believe the transformation. The girl in the more recent photo has two rosy cheeks, a cute bob hairdo like a little doll, and a pair of bright eyes full of life. You can hardly see the dark shadows that haunted her.
Her happiness and general inner peace is contagious. She's no longer depressed. She can speak a lot more now. She can string together full sentences...and oh my goodness does she love to play, not just games, but teasing and poking fun at her sisters in the house....
And then Tet came along. Because of her age and the general rules, there was no option but to allow her to go home to her family for Tet. And despite the fact that they don't have any authority over Little White; despite the multiple promises that she would come back after Tet celebrations to continue her studies....we waited and waited. She never came back.
"I couldn't wait. I had to make a trip out to her village to see her.
My goodness, after all the effort and energy we put into Little White, it all unraveled once she was back to her roots. Her clothes were stained with dirt and were put on backwards. She clearly hadn't bathed in days, possibly weeks. Her eyes had regained that blank expression. It was like she had never been with us at all" - House mother.
By Hoàng Xuân, Ảnh: Phạm An/ Trí Thức Trẻ
Translated by Jacqueline Huynh. The Vietnamese version in OBV website entitled "Những Đứa Trẻ Bị Xâm Hại (Kỳ 3): Bảy Năm Thống Khổ Của Tiểu Bạch"